Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Peter: In the finished film, what is actual practical effect and what is CG?  For example, is the desert background in the Millennium Falcon chase real? How many shots of BB-8 are actually real versus…?

ROGER: Well the BB-8 is easier to answer. Probably about a quarter of the shots of BB-8 are digital. And we came up with this plan with [creature shop head] Neal [Scanlan]. And that’s that kind of collaboration thing where you totally understand what the big pragmatic about what you felt we could achieve with a practical puppet. But the at the heart of that approach was if you have a practical puppet and I have an actor, those two beings can interact. I can puppeteer the thing and the actors can see how the behavior of the puppet and we can totally define that puppet’s behavior. Or the droid’s behavior. So to us it was so critical to define that so clearly. Then you have other instances where you’re going, okay, I’m doing a Falcon chase in the desert. The Falcon’s traveling at about 700 miles an hour. I’m gonna create a technology where I can essentially create any version of that desert that I want so I can fly around it and create my own camera moves. And if I can achieve that, then I can essentially put a sequence together like a chase sequence and hopefully people believe that it’s all really there, you know, it’s all photographed. And the trick there I think sometimes is to base it on somewhere that’s real because somehow in your head now you’re making that connection that, oh, that’s a tangible place.

Patrick: Well, and one simple way to put it is after the Falcon takes off, after the depot town, there isn’t a single un-manipulated shot after that. They’re all CG shots. But there are real elements within them. And that’s what I think gives is the real tangible thing, ’cause Roger went up and shot a lot of desert plates in a helicopter and we’re using a lot of those plates in there. But they’re all some CG version of that. They’re —

Roger: They’re all mashed up.

Patrick: Yeah, they’re all mashed up in but the cool thing was is to have that real tangible reference. It really makes it feel real and I think it, you still feel the location, even though they aren’t just straight plates, you know.


Peter: What is something that is CG in the film that most people would be surprised isn’t practical?

Roger: Well, I think there are shots, we did a lot of foliage stuff, trees and things like that. I think people would be surprised. One of my favorite scenes for that kind of sleight of hand is more towards the end where we had a scene with C-3PO, R2-D2 and BB-8 and we’re literally in some of those shots just for performance reasons, switching between mishmash of real BB-8, CG R2-D2.

Patrick: Sometimes the heads are CG, sometimes the bodies are real.

Roger: Yeah, Pat and I always joke, we literally sit there going, which one was this the real version of this? And it’s partially that that was the motivation. That very idea was the very motivation why we went round this group of having the most charming, in camera kind of approach. I’m using the word charming in a broad sense, but meeting this incredible technology and mashing those two things together. ‘Cause the technology available to you today if you have, you know, if you have the right sort of mindset and the right kind of planning and the right kind of restraint, I think it’s amazing what you can actually do with that technology. And you’re just constantly, you’re constantly changing the rules in shots about what’s real and what isn’t real. There are shots of Stormtroopers in the movie that I defy, I mean —

Patrick: There’s a good one. When the X-Wings approach and you pan the camera over and the troopers are getting ready to fight off the X-Wings as they approach and you see the X-Wings in the distance, the two troopers that you pan on to at the end of the shot are completely digital. But they are, they just look amazing. And the first time we saw that and the first time J.J. saw that, I remember his reaction was just his mind was just blown.

Roger: And what’s interesting is I shot that. You know, as second unit director, I did that shot and when I did that shot, I was always like it was a wall. It’s the piece that you’re traveling up, I mean, it’s a classic kind of reveal tracking shot. You’re with the guys right through, you track up a wall and that wall was just to give some foreground motion. And at the time, I was going God, I wish we had some ledges on that wall ’cause I could throw a couple of Stormtroopers up there.  And you’d reveal up and you’d see these Stormtroopers. And then we come to post-production, I’m going fuck, let’s just put some in, you know. And we just started putting in some Stormtroopers. And I was just like holy crap, you know. This actually works. And they look incredible.

Kathleen Kennedy and JJ Abrams

Peter: J.J. Abrams is kind of known behind the scenes to change his mind in the process or to find what he’s looking for late in the process. I wonder how does that affect your job, because what you do takes a lot of —

Roger: Well I would say that what he does, which I think some filmmakers are more afraid to do, is he’s not afraid to change something if he thinks there’s a better idea. And that can take all kinds of…

Peter: Do you have an example of that?

Roger: What would be an example of that in this movie? Well, I’ll think about that momentarily, but you can imagine you’re down a set path and you’re just constantly trying to think of ways to make any of those moments better. And you’ve got to within the grand scheme of things, you’re just trying to figure out whether or not you can achieve that in the amount of time that you have. And the one thing I would say about Star Wars is we were all determined to make it the best movie we could. So I think everyone that signed on for this mission knew that any of us and Pat and I being equally bad offenders, we would always turn to each other and go, what could we do here that would be cooler and more interesting or better? But, I mean, J.J.’s thing really is that he’s an incredibly creative man. And part of that is he thinks of good idea. You know, and —

Patrick: Yeah, I think he plans things very well, but at the same time he doesn’t let himself be constrained by whatever plan he may have had. He sort of lets himself feel it out on the day. And I think one thing we just tried to impart to everybody on our crew is don’t get too attached to every single shot or every single idea, because is there is a different version, we’re gonna explore that. And I think once people lock into that same mentality, it actually makes you feel a little bit more free to explore your own creativity. And that’s what makes him such a great collaborator, because we’re constantly, you know, we’re able to change things. Instead of being dictated to do something.

Roger: Yeah, so you get it, it’s kind of like we’re sketching out our process, he’s reacting to that. I mean, in a movie where you’re doing 2100 visual effects shots, you know, there’s a certain leap of faith and trust that you —

After the jump, learn about a scene in The Force Awakens which featured Kylo Ren with an entirely CG helmet, something unnoticed by most fans who have seen the movie, and find out why that came out.

Continue Reading Force Awakens Visual Effects Interview >>

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